Thanks to stand-up, I’m used to traveling for ages only to spend a tiny time somewhere and come back again. But recently, I went on a mighty seven-hour train journey to Aberdeen. This was extreme, even by my standards. In a way, I was like Bear Grylls.
I was excited. Because of the distance I would cover? No, because of the lunch I would pack.
The night before I packed a big box of tomato couscous. I used sundried and fresh toms and forked it through with chilli oil and spring onions. Also, two stuffed pittas and five bits of fruit. It looked like enough and that’s good going because no meal ever looks like enough. What I’m saying is, it was too much. So I bought some more.
I set out at 8.44am. I hoovered up a quick coffee from the little stall inside my local station, Ladywell. They do a latte with semi-skimmed for £1.80. It’s never burned, always strong and served with a bit of friendly and interesting conversation. I often buy a coffee there even when I don’t want one just because I’m pleased it exists. I needed this one though. In comedian’s hours, 8.44am is a normal person’s ‘crack of dawn’.
At King’s Cross I got a few bits from M&S and a ‘bean pot’ from Leon. Bean pot sounds like a euphemism for, at best, a piggy bank. It was only £1.95.
I got on the train and tucked in. Food stinks are like farts, if you made it you think they smell OK. And once it’s out there you might as well take a bit of pride in it and enjoy the table to yourself, which it invariably wins you.
The ‘bean pot’ is a little pot full of tasty, tinned tomato (the irony); a little bit of big beans and hiding under that, a creamy poached egg. Yum yum. The egg wasn’t runny, which was my only qualm. Warm tomato and eggs: ahhhhh. The mouth equivalent of someone giving your hand a little squeeze before a big moment.
With it, I necked an M&S Pressed & Crushed Pineapple, Watermelon and Aloe Vera Juice. It tasted of sunshine. I struggled not to just guzzle it all up in one gulp. Lovely. I was all set for at least 10 minutes. Only another six hours and 50 minutes to go.
I had one of my apples (6 for £1 coxes from Sainsburys) but it was so sour it hurt. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the flash of guttural horror that crosses a baby’s face the first time it tastes ice? It made me do that. I welled up and began to cry apple-acid.
I busied myself for a few hours, writing Hoovering articles and other, less fun things. I watched the brilliant second Captain America film: The Winter Soldier. It was so exciting I struggled to focus on my pittas. They were packed full. I’d half toasted them, just to get them open with ease. From the bottom up there were prawns, avocado then I’d brushed a coat of lemon juice over that. Then I’d rammed a handful of mixed leaf salad in there. Then I coated the inside roof of the pitta with a bit of natural yogurt, for purchase.
The film used up most of my attention and may have slightly affected my writing about these pittas. I’d gone in way too heavy with the lemon juice. I’d forgotten its power, unharnessed. It went beyond the perimeters of its original mission: inconspicuously bringing out other flavours. Instead it was explosive. After the apple disaster from earlier, this over-zest was especially distressing. Oh, my Fury!
There were silver linings. The bread hadn’t gone too soggy. The prawns were as prawny as little prawns ever are. The salad was still crisp and earthy and the avocado still velvety.
Insects’ entire lifetimes later, there was only an hour of train ride left. That’s right: choc o’clock. I whipped out my piece of resistance. An M&S Dark Chocolate Mountain Bar. It’s their own-brand version of a dark chocolate Toblerone, which, as we all know, is Toblerone for grown-ups. Blocks of silky, bitter cocoa. Bold, serious and self-important. Like Jeremy Paxman, but food.
It wasn’t the adventure for couscous and fruit. I was out of time and tum-room. Aberdeen was forced to meet me, crashing down from a sugar high and yawning through a bean-coma. Thankfully, it was a better host than I was guest.